1. (noun) The principle that the whole can be best understood by examining its parts.

2. (noun) The practice of reducing the complex into fundamental parts for analysis.


  1. Reducing the behaviors of men and women into biological expressions of genes and hormones.
  2. All of the definitions in this dictionary.

Audio Pronunciation: (re·duc·tion·ism)

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Usage Notes:

  • Plural: reductionisms
  • Reductionism as defined here as broad term as there are numerous types of reductionism such as biological reductionism, economic reductionism, and social reductionism. Additionally, while reductionism originated in philosophy and the works of Francis Bacon (1561–1626) and René Descartes (1596–1650) among numerous others, the term has become a loaded and often used pejoratively or disparagingly.
  • Holism is the opposite of reductionism.
  • Not to be confused with deductionism.
  • Reductionism is more common in the natural sciences than the social sciences.
  • Most research methodologies require some reductionism in order to operationalize variables for study.
  • Research methods are often viewed as holistic (qualitative) or reductionistic (quantitative).
  • Reductionism is challenged by other theories such as complexity theory, postmodernism, and systems theory.
  • Also called reductivism.
  • Type:
  • A (noun) reductionist uses (adjective) reductionistic logic to (verb) reduce complex systems into smaller parts (adverb) reductionistically or (adverb) reductively.

Additional Information:

Related Terms: 

Works Consulted

Merriam-Webster. (N.d.) Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (

O’Leary, Zina. 2007. The Social Science Jargon Buster: the Key Terms You Need to Know. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Oxford University Press. (N.d.) Oxford Dictionaries. (

Princeton University. 2010. WordNet. (

Random House Webster’s College Dictionary. 1997. New York: Random House.

Stewart, Paul, and Johan Zaaiman, eds. 2015. Sociology: A Concise South African Introduction. Cape Town: Juta.

Wikipedia contributors. (N.d.) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. (

How to Cite the Definition of Reductionism

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “reductionism.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved June 16, 2019 (

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

reductionism. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “reductionism.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed June 16, 2019.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“reductionism.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 16 Jun. 2019. <>.